By: STORM CUTHBERT
On average, the college graduate accumulates at least $20,000 in student loan debt. Although debt is a serious issue, some students are oblivious when signing on the dotted line. Young America is supposed to be informed about these obligations, and their number one resource should be financial aid.
Financial Aid Booking
The financial aid process of Piedmont College is similar to any other college or university in the nation. Director of Financial Aid Jody Anderson and Associate Director David McMillion explained the standard protocol for students who are evaluated for financial aid each year.
To start with, the student is usually assigned to an advisor based on their last name. Secondly, the advisor takes a look to see if the student is eligible for any Federal grants such as the Pell Grant. Thirdly, the advisor looks to see if the student is also eligible for any state grants such as the HOPE Grant or Georgia Tuition Equalization Grant. Lastly, the advisor looks look to see what institutional scholarships and grants the student is eligible for. Then and only then would they make student loans the last option.
“We try to use our resources as effectively as possible, with the best interest of the student at heart,” said McMillion.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, nearly 20 million Americans attend college each year. Of that 20 million, close to 12 million – or 60 percent- borrow annually to help cover the cost of tuition. Students who borrow are expected to understand all responsibilities upon borrowing. The student then has to go through a tedious process to obtain his or her student loan.
First- time borrowers also go through online entrance counseling. According to McMillion, this is discussed with the student and the parent during a pre-orientation meeting.
During this process, the Financial Aid Office encourages the student to be involved. The entrance counseling lets the student and their parent know their rights and responsibilities as a borrower. During the next phase of this process, the student is obligated to sign a promissory note, which is the legal document stating the student will pay back the loans. Towards graduation, the Financial Aid Office will reach out to every student congratulating them on their success but also reminding them to complete their exit counseling. Students who do not graduate are still obligated to go through this process.
Several students within the Piedmont community said they are aware of the help that is offered by Piedmont’s Financial Aid Office. Junior criminal justice major Salima Greig says she visits financial aid once a year.
“I usually see them at the end of the year when I’m trying to see my award letter,” said Greig.
On the other hand, senior biology major Eboni Waters visits three to four times a year. When visiting, both Waters and Greig discuss scholarship eligibility, tuition spikes and tuition payment options. However, when asked about student loan debt and its amount, both weren’t as sure about the numbers.
“I guess when I need [the student loan debt amount], I’ll go to financial aid,” said Greig.
Waters did know the general amount, but did not know the exact number of her student loan debt.
Waters said the Financial Aid Office is helping her deal with her student loans properly.
“I guess they’re doing a decent job at it, and plus when you sign your promissory note all of that [information] is listed in there,” she said. “I feel like when you sign that paper it’s no longer Financial Aid’s job to give you that info; it’s up to you.”
However, many students still struggle with these new responsibilities.
According to Student Struggles Demos Organization, 70 percent of students say it has become harder to make ends meet. Student loans account for the most common form of increasing debt among ages 18-24.
Loans are the ultimate go-to when there are no other resources available. Lendors are making loans accessible, which helps accumulate more student debt.
According to Assistant Professor of Business, Robert Perrella, a student can file for bankruptcy when too much credit card debt is accumulated; however, the chance for student loan forgiveness is slim to none.
“Students or anyone else who fails to manage their debt properly only hurt themselves,” Perrella said.
“Missed or late payments, accumulating more debt or failing to manage one’s financial obligations can result in a lower credit score. Lower credit scores, in turn, may result in an inability to secure future credit, higher interest rates and possibly diminished employment opportunities. More and more employers view a low credit score as a potential inability to manage one’s personal affairs. This isn’t an attribute employers find attractive.”
Other factors contribute to the student struggle. Anderson explained how college graduates are struggling to find jobs in the field they worked so hard to get their degree in.
However, McMillion said, “The U.S. Department of Education is doing a good job of creating programs and helping students with that if they need help.”
Students who deal with these factors may find themselves borrowing more in response to the harsh economy. According to McMillion, Piedmont prides itself on its four-year graduation total debt number of just above $17,000. In comparison, the national average is about $20,000. McMillion explains the low debt number is only possible because Piedmont’s tuition is lower than most is private institutions. Therefore, students usually don’t have to take out additional loans along with their federal loans to cover the cost.
To be continued in the next issue.